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The Police Bill: What is it, what's happened, and what can we do?

BASW will use our voice to oppose the measures that we believe are harmful to individuals and society

The Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill was introduced to Parliament by the Government last week.

It includes a raft of controversial proposals around law and order. It received its Second Reading in the House of Commons yesterday (Tuesday 16 March), and a majority of MPs voted in favour for it to move to its Committee Stage.

Some of the key measures in the Bill include:

  • Strengthening police powers to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or access to Parliament
  • Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments, where trespassers cause distress and misery to local communities and businesses
  • Making it illegal for any person in a position of trust to engage in sexual activity with under 18s who they are responsible for
  • The introduction of a ‘sliding-scale’ for sentencing for under 18s. This changes the ‘starting point’ of a sentence, which increases with age and the severity of the crime.
  • Where a person who does not have capacity is asked to handover a personal device so that information can be extracted from it for police matters, a social worker or relevant person such as a parent or guardian can give permission and hand over the device on behalf of the person who does not have capacity.
  • A minimum 10-year sentence for vandalism of statues

These proposals have been met with strong opposition from the public and campaigning organisations.

Protests are a key function of our open and free democracy, and will ultimately give cause to the police to shut down any protest in the name of it being ‘disruptive’ to the public.

The Bill also seeks to criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities’ way of life, whilst the Government fails to provide adequate sites and permitted stopping places. Our National Director of BASW Cymru has signed a letter to the Home Secretary opposing these measures in the Bill, which you can read here.

The Opposition in the House of Commons have come out opposing the Bill, highlighting that the minimum sentence for vandalising a statue is double the minimum sentence for a rape conviction – which stands at only 5 years. This has led to the conclusion that the Government views statues as worth more than those who are sexually assaulted.

Whilst much of the Bill has faced opposition, one of the areas that has been welcomed is the change to prevent anyone in a position of trust to engage in sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18 that they are responsible for.

BASW is looking at opportunities for amendments to improve the Bill, and use our voice to oppose the measures that we believe are harmful to individuals and society.

The Bill will now go to Committee Stage where MPs can submit and debate on amendments, and go through the Bill line-by-line.

John McGowan, General Secretary of SWU, commented on the Police Bill:

“SWU is concerned that the Government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill risks criminalising the right to peaceful protest, and will increase discrimination and undermine democracy. Many of the hard-won rights that communities have fought for have come as a direct result of protest, and people should be able to stand up for what they believe in and hold the Government and organisations accountable for their actions. Under this legislation protesters can be arrested and charged on grounds so vague that they are almost impossible to refute. It appears to be that the only criterion they have to meet is whether, in their own judgement, the crime is necessary to deliver outcomes that are again defined in the loosest possible terms, including “to prevent disorder” or to maintain “economic wellbeing.” 

"There is a clear direction of change here: the state is rapidly acquiring huge powers over citizens, and security agencies are being empowered to act as they please under the direction of a dreadful UK Government."